Amid the inflation sweeping the country, Deltona’s leaders are pondering a big increase in what the city charges for stormwater control.
The annual stormwater charge is now $128 per standard single-family home, but that charge may increase between $42 and $68. That is a range of increase between 33 and 53 percent!
The surprise came Monday evening, May 23, as the City Commission was wrapping up a workshop on capital spending proposals. The commission reached a consensus in favor of a possible jump from an annual charge of $128 per dwelling unit to $170 or $196. The commission will make a final decision at a later date.
Is such a big hike really likely?
“Potentially,” Acting City Manager John Peters told The Beacon.
Peters said the bump may be necessary because of a change in city operations that came about under a previous manager.
“We shifted mowing from the general fund to the stormwater fund when Ms. [Jane] Shang was here, and we’ve got a lot of right of ways to mow,” he added.
The mowing of swales and rights of way costs the city approximately $500,000 a year.
Peters also said there are demands for more drainage improvements.
“I’ve got commissioners who are pushing for projects,” he noted.
Deltona’s current stormwater fee, set in 2019, will yield approximately $5.6 million for the current fiscal year.
A document given to members of the City Commission at the workshop shows a list of 36 planned stormwater projects costing $18.5 million.
The list of projects is prioritized over a 20-year period. During the next two decades, the costs of materials, as well as labor, will likely rise.
Still, the last-minute idea of hiking the stormwater charge created some debate.
“I’m not a fan of raising stormwater rates, … but there has to be a justification for that,” Mayor Heidi Herzberg said. “Everything has gone up.”
Herzberg also said city officials have searched for sources of funding from elsewhere, especially state agencies, but with little success. The mayor added an increase may be needed “for the long-term health of the city and what we have to do for the residents.”
“I know it’s painful to begin with,” Commissioner Dana McCool said, as she agreed to support an increase.
Commissioner David Sosa wanted to know how the stormwater revenues are spent.
“This list looks like the same list [of projects] that we had last year,” he said.
Referring to the 2020-21 stormwater program, Assistant Public Works Director Phyllis Wallace said $1.7 million of the almost $5.9 million was allocated for capital projects. Approximately $2.5 million paid for personnel, while $1.5 million covered the Stormwater Division’s operating expenses. In addition, $520,000 was used to repay a bank loan.
“And half a million was transferred in from the general fund,” Wallace noted.
The transfer from the general fund goes against the principle of having the stormwater fund as an enterprise fund, meaning the revenues from the special assessments are supposed to pay all of the agency’s expenses, without a subsidy from tax dollars.
Not satisfied with the progress in completing projects and the shifting of mowing of swales and rights of way from Public Works to the Stormwater Division, Sosa said he would oppose a higher assessment.
“I’m going to be a no on looking at raising the rates,” he said.
Commissioner Loren King also spoke out against increasing the stormwater assessment.
“Whenever you’re taking money from the citizens, it’s a tax,” he told fellow members of the commission. “We’re really taking more from them. … That fee is a tax, no matter how you look at it.”
The last increase in Deltona’s stormwater assessment came in 2019, when the City Commission voted to raise it to the current $128. The $128 charge applies to conventional single-family dwellings. Owners of commercial properties, including churches and other nonprofit organizations, pay stormwater assessments based on the area of land surface their buildings cover.
To offset the pain Deltonans may feel about seeing a higher stormwater charge on their property-tax bills, Peters said he may ask the commission to reduce the city’s water and sewer rates. Deltona’s water and sewer charges have risen steadily over the past 10 years, upon the recommendations of consultants. Deltona now has the highest sewer rates of any local government in East Central Florida.
Peters also said he will recommend putting all of the city’s mowing responsibilities under a single agency. Currently, three city agencies — the Stormwater Division, and the departments of Public Works and Parks and Recreation — share the cutting of grass and weeds on municipal property and rights of ways.